McKenzie Wark on 12 Jul 2000 17:29:46 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] nonfiction

"We no longer have roots, we have aerials."
 -- McKenzie Wark 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2000 00:10:12 +1000
From: colin hood <>
To: McKenzie Wark <>
    Fiona Giles <>

Fact or Friction: a hay-ride of distractions

Colin Hood

Fact or Fiction? A nonfiction writer's festival
Saturday July 8
State Library of NSW

Sponsored by the Masters Degree in Writing for the Media Macquarie 
University, this wizard little one-day chat-fest featured Margaret 
Wertheim, John Dale, Margo Kingston, Ghassan Hage, Mary Zournazi and 
Mark Davis speaking - or so it was advertised - on the role of the 
non-fiction writer in today's media.

Well apart from the (truly) thrilling confessions of Dale and 
Birmingham on  their recently published non-fiction narratives (Sin 
City and Leviathan respectively), there was little discussion on laws 
of genre and genre 'contamination.'

Too bad - i probably would have paid my $27.00 just to hear these two 
speak anyway (assuming lunch or brunch was part of the deal). As well 
- an abundance of value-added supplements to the one-theme start-up.

By the time Margo Kingston and Ghassan Hage hit the mikes, the debate 
had clearly shifted to other topic themes and questions; as: how do 
we effectively politicise the gap between compromised social 
democratic ideals of the old left and the socially de-contracted 
policies of the right?

and: the withering of a certain kind of public space for engaged 
political discussion ... what are we gonna do about that?

Maybe i imagined these spin out seminar themes, heard other voices on 
topics closer to my heart, but they sounded okay and i ran with them 

While Hage and Kingston didn't engage with specific themes of fiction 
or non-fiction, it was clear to many of us, that a call to an 'ethics 
of understanding' in debates around multiculturalism (Hage), and 
advoacting a  smarter approach to the Hanson phenomenon (Kingston), 
were not in any way 'outside' the official topic.

The results - intended or not or not - were spectacular.

Kingston remarked towards the end of her allotted time that Hanson 
was a gift of sorts, enabling a rediscovery of the purposes of 

and on Howard's refusal to apologise? Well that's an opportunity to 
open up a debate that - gasp! - may have closed and withered under a 
Labor Government's embrace.

Tricky stuff, but as Hage observes, in a social space 'oriented to 
hostile otherness' (like attacking the tourist dollar to enrich our 
special Sydney life-style) there is a need to shift from consolidated 
arguments of those who mainly 'think like me' ('narcissistic 
rhetorics of fundamentalism' in the ramped up version), to a 
broader-base ethics of understanding.

Hage's argument is superbly articulated. If - in any way - the likes 
of (the) 'Ayatollah Johnny' speak for (or stand in for) the preferred 
addressees of my own poltical message or rhetoric ... then the 
machines of political persuasion become somewhat more complex - 
requiring greater time and patience to successfully manipulate.

It echoes an argument voiced by Cary Wolfe, respondent in a 
long-running US debate on how academics might speak in public:

"Different audiences to be moved or persuaded, require different and 
even incompatible rhetorical strategies, and those multiple forms of 
address must still be reconciled with what the intellectual knows 
about those rhetorical terms."

(Cary Wolfe, Getting the Dirt on The Public Intellectual: A Response 
to Michael B&eacute;rub&eacute; - EBR 1996 - - accessed July 10, 2000)

Running closer to the seminar theme (on the terrain of scientific 
vesus popular genres) was Margaret Wertheim's discussion starter on 
science writing for a general readership ...

Where does one position this - highly educated non-specialist - 
author of The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace - in the 'space between' the 
expert cultures of academe (or corporate R&D) and the voracious 
Australian reading public?

Well - for starters - it depends on what you define as general 
'publics' and expert 'cultures'.

For the moment I follow the line (rejecting rigid sociographic, 
socio-economic categorisation) taken by social systems theorist, 
Dietrich Schwanitz:

"It is no longer groups of people that are differentiated but types 
[and sub-systems] of communications." [...] "The individual human 
being belongs to each of these functionally differentiated subsystems 
for only short periods of time with only limited aspects of his 
person depending on his respective role as a voter, pupil, reader, 
patient, or litigant." (Cultural Critique, Spring 1995)

While I admire Wertheim's work as much as the next 'general reader', 
i cannot support the view of missionary accomplishment that some 
attribute to her published work.

It's an unfortunate simplification: to put too much faith in 'a 
selfless devotion' to getting it 'out there'; or to over-rely on what 
one American speech act theorist labelled the conduit metaphor; that 
is, translating ideas retrieved from the sacred space of true 
discourse on science, humanities, politics, and feeding it to the 
masses (the largest student body imaginable) in digestible format - 
via publishing, TV, the classrooom, or whatever medium

... one-way street to a life of the mind in semi-permanent.

For there is no reading public as such - average and reliable (in 
it's place and position - if not in mood). What's more - and i repeat 
these words of Pluto Publisher Tony Moore to good effect i hope - the 
trains don't run there anymore.

For those 'public substance' abusers still in counselling, you could 
begin with this little visualisation exercise - an image of Eurydice 
slipping back into Hades - and see where that takes you. I'm 
hazarding (as French philsopher/essayist, Maurice Blanchot once 
imagined it to be): a cruel, virtual space of vanity, hope and 
ultimate disappointment.

For the smarties, there's a multiplicity of social (and 
communicational relations) fueling antagonisms, changing political 
sentiment, educational and vocational effects. And that might be 
closer to the truth.

For the rest of us i guess, it's the business end of the lamp-shade as usual.

Colin Hood
Online Editor
Social Change Australia
0404 285 983

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